On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction

On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction - William Knowlton Zinsser As I read William Zinsser’s On Writing Well, I repeatedly thought of Ratatouille, an animated film from Pixar Studios. True, it’s a tenuous connection between the two works. Zinsser’s book was published more than three decades prior to the theatrical release of Ratatouille. And Zinnser’s intended audience (even though he argues in his book that a writer should never write for an intended audience) was likely professional adults whereas the animators of Ratatouille sought only to amuse children and childlike adults. But Zinsser’s book and the film argue for the same thing: anyone can master a craft. In Ratatouille, this theme is presented more whimsically; a rat becomes a world-class Parisian cook by following the credo “Anyone can cook!” Being a rat, he’s naturally disadvantaged in the kitchen, but with hard work, confidence, and, most importantly, an appreciation for delicious food, he manages to overcome his deficits and become a five-star chef. Zinsser is essentially supporting the same idea. Based on what he says in On Writing Well, anyone can write! Whether you’re a physicist more comfortable with quantum theory than punctuation rules or a relatively accomplished writer only occasionally struck by doubts, you will benefit from hearing these comforting words. In fact, Zinsser’s book is less of a writing manual and more of a psychiatric guide for the aspiring writer.If you approach On Writing Well as a panacea for all your technical writing woes, a salve for your misplaced commas, a remedy for your verbosity, then you’re sure to be disappointed. As Zinsser repeatedly demonstrates—both through personal example and sage advice—success in writing comes from positive psychological habits. Anyone can write, because all anyone must do is develop confidence, approach the world as an interested and interesting citizen, and discover his or her ever elusive “self” and record it in words. As a result, the message of On Writing Well is scary yet liberating. There are no quick solutions here, but if you’re courageous enough to try, you can become a writer.